The most important work I’ve done in journalism

Like most people who get into the business, I became a journalist because I wanted to write.

I wound up spending most of my career as an editor, not a writer. And I spent most of my time as an editor really as a manager — directing people, not changing copy.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the product of my work was helping other people do their best work. If I could create an environment where smart people were both challenged and freed to do exceptional things, I would consider that a legacy in any league.

I’m not really sure how successful I was at that. Certainly the declining days of newspapers made it tough to feel like you were giving anybody a chance to do anything but hang on.

In the last few years, Rusty and I have been working on programs to help entrepreneurial publishers — folks starting their own sites in communities they care about — to build stronger businesses. It began with 12 publishers and Super Camp in 2011, and we just completed the New Jersey Community Journalism Entrepreneurial Training class a couple of weeks ago.

Debbie Galant, who truly is the mother of hyperlocal movement as the founder of Baristanet, brought us to New Jersey in her new role as director of the New Jersey News Commons. One of the greatest gifts I’ve gotten since I left newspapers has been getting to meet Debbie, who inspires not just through her vision but through her generosity in sharing what she’s learned with others.

I read her blog post this morning about NJ CJET, and I thought to myself: Being part of this is the most important work I’ve done in journalism. I’m honored to be in the company of these smart, passionate folks, and happy to have played a very, very small role in helping them along their way. They inspire, and teach, me much more so than the other way around.

Here’s a snippet of Debbie’s post, which you can read here:

“Over the years, hundreds of indie online publishers have cropped up, many drawing on Baristanet for inspiration. Most, like us, have lurched along by trial and error. But many have been less lucky. All over the country, there are editors running hyperlocal sites like Sisyphus, picking up the stone and pushing it up the hill each day. They never find a salesperson and thus never get enough revenue to pay a staff — or take a vacation.

“This is a problem. Entrepreneurial news sites are an important development in the news ecosystem. They represent a career opportunity for seasoned journalists downsized by mainstream media, and a boon for communities that desperately need a digital town square. But all too often, the people running them are burning themselves out.”